Massachusetts House approves transgender rights bill

Massachusetts

Bil Browning

BOSTON (AP) — A bill that would bar discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations and allow them to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with the gender they identify with won overwhelming approval in the Democratic-controlled Massachusetts House on Wednesday.

Its passage comes a day after Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he would sign the House version of the bill, which includes language that targets false claims of gender identity, if it reaches his desk. The bill must now be reconciled with a Senate version, which does not include that language.

The 116-36 House vote, following several hours of debate on the highly charged issue, was greeted with loud and sustained applause from supporters who had filled the House gallery to capacity.

“Our state is one step closer to allowing me, a 14-year-old transgender girl, to be able to live my life the way I want to live my life and be free and not have to worry about being discriminated (against) in public,” said Nicole Talbot, an eighth-grader from Grafton, after watching the debate with her mother.

Opponents, who gathered outside the House chamber as the debate unfolded, briefly directed chants of “shame on you” toward lawmakers after the vote.

A 2011 state law prohibits discrimination in employment and housing but does not extend to public accommodations such as restaurants or shopping malls.

Critics of the bill have suggested that sexual predators could make false claims to gain access to women’s restrooms or locker rooms.

Rep. John Fernandes, a Milford Democrat who presided over hearings on the bill, urged colleagues to put aside fear and emotion and focus on the facts. He said discrimination should not be allowed anywhere.

“It’s wrong in bathrooms and it’s wrong in locker rooms and it’s wrong in business settings,” Fernandes said.

After months of being publicly noncommittal on the bill, Baker agreed Tuesday to sign the House version of the bill, which assesses penalties for people who make false claims of gender identity.

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